There is a reasonable argument that can be put forward about how the UN is structurally undemocratic – for example, I certainly didn’t feel overly represented when our government refused to take part in negotiating a treaty to ban nuclear weapons in 2017. Decisions being made with little to no consultation or care of the public can hardly be considered democratic. Larger issues aside, one of the wildest issues with the UN is the absurd concept of the veto powers, held by countries that probably shouldn’t be leading global ‘diplomacy’.
The specific case that makes me want to bring this up is that of the US threatening to veto a UN resolution earlier this week – specifically, a resolution that proposed to stamp out the use of rape as a weapon of war. No rational person, even with an elementary sense of morality, would be opposed to such a resolution – but we are not exactly dealing with rational actors. The US, and other superpowers like Russia and China, have abused the veto powers (or the threat of them) for their own purposes.
In the case of this resolution, China and Russia abstained, and the US only approved it after threatening to have it vetoed (arguably, preventing the resolution’s passing would have been worse than simply abstaining from the vote, but I digress). The reason for this threat is just as morally bankrupt, and for good reason the move was criticised worldwide. The US said that they would only accept it if all references to sexual and reproductive health were omitted.
Pages and pages could be dedicated – and rightfully have been – to the immense step backwards this is for women across the globe, and especially those who are the victims of sexual violence. But here I think it is in important to question just how such barbaric regression can be allowed. No one would dare claim – unless they wish to admit to having an abhorrently corrupt mind – that state or patriarchal power structures should have any control over women’s rights regarding their sexual health, but that is exactly what happened this week. And they won.
The UN is supposed to be the international body that upholds international law and promotes human rights – in this instance, the rights of women subjected to violence in warzones. When a member of the UN Security Council (dare I even mention the absurdity of permanent membership?) can simply stand up and refuse a resolution for their own purposes – ideological, imperialist, or otherwise – the system is fundamentally flawed.
Removing any and all mention of sexual and reproductive health because of an archaic idea of control over women is entirely unacceptable. And that is all it is – all opposition to services like abortion or contraception, despite what some well meaning but blind followers may think, is simply a form of control over a significant portion of the population.
Having the power to be able to force this measure into a UN resolution in the face of extreme backlash is also entirely unacceptable. France took quite an aggressive stance against the US, and other nations from the Dominican Republic to Belgium also stressed the necessity of providing sexual and reproductive health to women in these circumstances. France’s ambassador was quoted as saying:
“It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict, and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant, should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”
From a country that, alone with Somalia, has not ratified a treaty on the rights of children, it is not surprising that the US, particularly under Trump’s administration, is lining up to deny the rights of others. In a just world, countries like the US, Russia and China would have no say in international affairs – they are the ones that should be held accountable for their unbridled abuses.
The UN, and similar institutions like the EU, have merit – in an ideal world, such a body would bring in some much needed unity. Instead, due to undemocratic notions like permanent membership on the UNSC and veto powers, the UN is basically reduced to a pacified lion – it might look the part, but its teeth and claws to pursue its purpose are ripped away.
This time, those affected by sexual violence in war are the victims of this injustice. To quote a lyric from Serj Tankian’s song Harkiri: “The future will view all history as a crime”. That history is now, and the future will judge us for it.
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